TUKWILA — Lather, rinse and repeat took on a different meaning for Gustav Svensson last fall.
The Sounders midfielder spent nearly three weeks drenched in Champagne, celebrating matches and championships on two different continents. Svensson, who hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, would like to repeat that cycle again this year as the Sounders begin defense of their MLS Cup with the league opener Sunday against the Chicago Fire at CenturyLink Field.
Though he will miss Sunday’s opener — and likely more than that — with a calf injury, Svensson, 33, is the steely underpinning to both the Sounders and his national team that could keep the Champagne flowing.
“I’m not complaining,” Svensson said. “But it felt like you prepare for a game, you win it, you celebrate. But then at the same time you have to prepare for the next game. You win that and you celebrate. Then you have to go back again.
“It was a weird two weeks. Except for marrying my wife and having my kids, it was the most memorable two weeks of my life.”
The 2019 party started in October with the Sounders swiping the MLS Western Conference championship from heavily favored Los Angeles FC on the road. Svensson scored a goal — his only of the season — off a header in the conference semifinal match to help Seattle advance to the conference final.
The LAFC visitors’ locker room was trimmed in plastic tarps to protect against the Champagne and beer Sounders players doused each other with in celebration.
Just 12 days later, the Sounders won the club’s second MLS Cup by defeating Toronto FC, 3-1, before a CenturyLink Field record crowd of 69,274.
And again, the locker room was prepped for sprays of alcohol.
“It felt like no one knew who the Seahawks were at the time,” said Svensson of the 2014 Super Bowl champs, who share the stadium. “Every other day is the other way around. That day was ours. But it was bittersweet because I had to leave.”
Svensson left Seattle at 7:30 a.m. the day after the MLS Cup to join the Swedish national team in Bucharest to play five days later against Romania in a loser-out UEFA European Championships qualifier match. The Swedes won, 2-0, with Svensson substituting in the match in the 69th minute to hold the lead.
Sweden reveled in Champagne showers and three days later did the same after a 3-0 win against Faroe Islands in Solna, Sweden. Svensson didn’t play in the match but still joined in the celebration.
“It was a lot more Champagne here but better Champagne in Sweden,” Svensson said. “Looking back, LAFC was the most difficult game. We were underdogs that game, no one thought that we would win playing away in L.A. and they had a great season — broke all the records you can break.
“It was a hard game against Romania away because we had to at least take a point. We had a great game and we won so we celebrated after that game.”
Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam almost ran out of fingers when counting titles the club could win this season.
“This feeling is what you want to have as a club, as players — excitement,” he said before rattling off the possibilities beginning with the MLS Supporters Shield (best overall league record) and including Campeones Cup (MLS champs vs. Liga MX winner) and U.S. Open Cup.
There’s also the Cascadia Cup, Western Conference title and, of course, MLS Cup.
The Sounders have already dropped out of the CONCACAF Champions League. CD Olimpia advanced to the quarterfinals by defeating Seattle, 4-2, in a penalty shootout Thursday at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan (miss) and Leerdam (save) didn’t score on their attempts to give the Hondurans the win after a pair of 2-2 draws in the series.
Seattle is the only one of five MLS teams to not advance in this year’s Champions League.
The devastating loss after an entire offseason built around the tournament, which no MLS team has won in its current format, hints at Svensson’s subtle value that will be even more important this season. The Sounders are still rotating center backs after veteran Chad Marshall’s retirement in May 2019.
Marshall, a three-time MLS Defender of the Year, spent five of his 15-year career in Seattle. Svensson easily melded into the defensive scheme when he arrived in 2017.
Without Marshall and Roman Torres, who missed 10 games due to suspension for violating MLS’s substance-abuse policy, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was forced to use six different center backs, three who were new to the club.
The inconsistencies created a leaky defense that conceded 19 goals — three each in three consecutive matches — to close the final nine games of the season. Svensson was often a catalyst to at least escape with a win or draw by making plays to get stops while teammates up top such as Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris worked to outscore opponents.
“He’s proven that he can break up plays. Crucial plays,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said of Svensson. “Snuff them out and read the play really well and then come in with a crunching tackle. Like Ozzie (Alonso) used to do — that crunching tackle that kind of makes a statement.”
Svensson said he’s even more prepared to do the little things this season because the Sounders’ back line has changed again.
The Sounders did not re-sign Torres (Inter Miami CF) and Kim Kee-hee (Korea), who now play elsewhere. Garth Lagerwey, Sounders general manager and president of soccer, used targeted allocation money (TAM) to acquire Yeimar Gomez Andrade, a 6-foot-2 center back from Colombia to play alongside Xavier Arreaga. The club also signed MLS veteran Shane O’Neill as backup.
The Sounders’ third designated player, Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo, is expected to team with Svensson and is defensive-minded with scoring ability — he’s already tallied two goals since joining the Sounders. Leerdam has the right wing, and Nouhou is a new addition on the left, replacing Australian fullback Brad Smith.
It’s early, but the anticipated first-choice lineup didn’t play as a unit against CD Olimpia due to injuries and Andrade not procuring his U.S. P1 Visa. The group did train together in Mexico City earlier this month.
“I’ve always seen myself as the kind of player who tries to help others out there on the pitch,” Svensson continued. “I put a lot of burden on my shoulders to make them better. But it is a lot of new players.”
Goose is loose
One thing that isn’t new: Svensson’s fire to win.
If you can peel your eye from electric players such as Morris, Ruidiaz, Joao Paulo or Nico Lodeiro, Svensson is loose on the field doing equally entertaining dirty work, or at least rattling opponents.
“My hate to lose is bigger than wanting to win,” Svensson said. “The feeling I get when I lose is horrendous. It’s deep inside me and I’m willing to do everything I can in my power or more than that to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
In June, Svensson will rejoin Sweden for Euro 2020. He could miss two months of MLS play if the Swedish national team, which reached the World Cup quarterfinals, were to advance to its first Euro championship match in July.
To Svensson, all of that just means more opportunities to get the Champagne flowing again.